The horrible revelations that the Air Force mortuary at Dover Air Force Base grossly mishandled America’s returning war dead and then tossed several soldiers’ cremated remains into a Virginia landfill was difficult news to stomach. Both incidents could certainly be chalked up to “gross mismanagement” if one were trying to positively spin the stories.
The more blunt way to put it is that the honor of America’s fallen combat troops was severely disrespected by the large bureaucracy sending them to war.
But due to pressure from Congress and Washington Post reporters, officials have revealed that they dumped the partial, cremated remains of at least 274 American soldiers into a Virginia landfill.
274. Let that number sink in for a moment. Worse, there are no plans, they said, to alert those families now. So how bad is it?
Pretty bad, actually. This, from the Washington Post‘s excellent reporting:
An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700.
The first official record of the practice came in 2004, but the electronic database only goes back to 2003. Also, it’s worth mentioning, a widow of an Army sergeant killed in Iraq says that she was told by a mortuary official that remains had been taken to landfills since at least 1996.
The landfill dumping practice was ended in 2008. Now, any unclaimed and unidentified remains of soldiers are cremated with the ashes buried at sea. The landfill disposals were never formally authorized under military policies, nor were the practices disclosed to senior Pentagon officials.
The report demonstrates a consistent pattern of disregard for many soldiers killed in action. Stolen valor refers to something else entirely, but there’s no other appropriate phrase that works.